This restorative stretch of the North Umpqua River is well off the beaten path for anyone, and yet the Steamboat Inn has been a Mecca for some of the world’s premier producers of Pinot Noir.
And while it has been known as home to the annual Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference since 1980, Travis and Melinda Woodward sought out the Steamboat Inn because of its reputation for fishing.
"It had been for sale for seven years," Melinda said. "Travis was not happy where we were, so we looked at our skill sets and started to think about getting out of Eugene. He's a fly fisherman, and I also fish, so we thought a fishing lodge would be perfect. We looked around the McKenzie River, but didn't find anything that we wanted."
When they came across the Steamboat Inn listing, their reaction was, "Oh my god! Are you kidding me?"
Melinda phoned the Steamboat Inn and said, "I want to buy your lodge, and can I come tomorrow?"
That was September 2016. It took several months to finalize the sale because the inn is on land leased from the Forest Service, so the Woodwards took over on May 1, 2017. Jim and Sharon Van Loan — who owned the lodge for 42 years — allowed the Woodwards to move in a month in advance.
“Travis and I both have country club backgrounds,” Melinda said. “I was head of catering, and he was head of maintenance. We have the same jobs now."
The Woodwards are Oregonians, both having grown up in Eugene. They haven’t been looking to turn the Steamboat Inn into something that would be out of place.
”A lot of it is still very much the same,” she said. “Steamboat had its own character and still has its own character. We've modernized a little, but there is still no TV and no phone service. We can't get that in the canyon, but that's part of the charm. ’Disconnect to reconnect.’ That's what I say."
The success of the Steamboat Inn and its legacy of fine dining can be highlighted in a simple stat — the Woodwards are just the fourth set of owners in its 80-year history. The Moore family owned it for two decades before selling to the Van Loans. It’s proved to be an exciting place for the Woodwards to raise their precocious daughter.
"She's five and thinks she's running it already," Melinda said. "She'll either love it or hate it by the time she's an adult."
During the days of the Great Depression, famed author Zane Grey and coverage in Outdoor Life magazine helped spread news of steelhead fishing in the North Umpqua. Decades later, Jim Van Loan’s reputation as a guide and conservationist would earn him an appointment to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
However, it was Sharon Van Loan’s cuisine and part-owner Patricia Lee’s wine list that raised its standing within the young Oregon wine industry. Their work each year on the Steamboat Inn’s winemaker dinner series helped take lodge to new heights.
“Winemaker dinners at Steamboat, which we have been doing for over a decade, are something we look forward to each year,” said Stephen Reustle of Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards in Roseburg. “There’s the setting, the wonderful hospitality of the Woodwards, and of course the food/wine pairings are incredible.”
For decades, the Van Loans and Lee set the table for their lodge by using the Winemaker’s Dinner Series as shoulder season enticements. The Woodwards will trim the number of winemaker dinners from 26 to 20 next year as they continue to learn about their 8,000 newsletter subscribers.
"We want it more known that we're very welcoming to everyone," Melinda said. "Families are welcome. In the past, the program didn't really fit family life. The winemaker dinners lasted for hours, which is not something that kids want to sit through, so we want to make it a little easier for people to bring kids.
“For example, we always have a sparkling cider,” she continued. “We ended the fisherman’s dinner that was every night. It was all one seating, which was 7 p.m. That didn't fit people's lifestyles, so we offer dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. each night. It runs to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. There's still fine dining, but there are more choices and it's much more flexible. That was Pat's biggest recommendation when I bought it.”
There have been few changes, however, to the Steamboat wine list.
"I inherited an amazing wine list from Pat, and I've learned that you can't go wrong with any of those names on that list,” she said. "I have tried to add at least one or two wineries each year, and this year, I added more of a Roseburg presence. I knew a little bit about wine before, but my knowledge has definitely increased since I've been here. It's quite a steep learning curve, but I enjoy it."
The Steamboat Pinot Noir Conference is staged in mid-July, just ahead of the International Pinot Noir Celebration, bringing a wide range of perspective to this fishing resort. It also introduces winemakers to Melinda. That helps her develop the program for the winemaker dinner series.
"There are some who are here every year, and some every third year or so, but there are always new faces," she said. "Stephen Reustle is among those who come in every year."
Sadly, one of those missing is the late Stephen Cary, the longtime winemaker for Yamhill Valley Vineyards and a founder of the Steamboat Conference. The Woodwards got to know Cary in 2017, the year before he died.
"He was a great guy," Melinda said. "I always enjoyed talking to him. He was full of knowledge and liked to share it. He ran the Pinot conference and helped me with the transition."
Cary requested that his ashes scattered in three places — New Zealand, a prized Pinot Noir block at Yamhill Valley Vineyards and the Umpqua River at the Steamboat Inn. His protégé, Ariel Eberle, who took over the winemaking with the 2016 vintage, returns to Steamboat Inn each year for a winemaker dinner with the team from McMinnville’s iconic Nick’s Italian Café - a tradition that began 26 years ago.
"Ariel does a tribute to Stephen during the Yamhill Valley Vineyards winemaker dinners, and last year at the Pinot Conference there was a memorial to him," Melinda said. "There was a lot of the old guard who came last year and shared their memories of Stephen."
As the Woodwards took over at Steamboat, they have provided a homecoming for executive chef Justin Smith, who grew up just down the river from the inn.
"We are exactly the culture that he's looking for — farm to table, growing your own food,” Melinda said.
After leaving his hometown of Glide, Smith made his way to some of the top kitchens in Portland, building a résumé that includes Paley’s Place and Wildwood.
“This is just the right fit,” Smith says, “I grew up here. I learned how to cook here. I fell in love with farm to table here!”
He began to earn the trust of some of the Rose City’s top chefs at the age of 16 when he first worked alongside James Beard Award winners and nominees at the Steamboat Inn during the popular winemaker’s dinner series.
“It was incredible,” Smith says. “As a teenager, I was assisting some seriously talented chefs, people on the forefront of the whole farm-to-table movement in Portland. It helped me understand the importance of using local products, the impact it has on the community, and its subsequent boost on the economy. I realized the need for that in the Umpqua Valley.”
Reustle said, “Justin is an artistic, daring chef and took great pride in matching our wines to his culinary creations.”
Smith, now 30, sources from more than a dozen Umpqua Valley suppliers of dairy, produce, game and other ingredients for his diners. Among those growers is sous chef Adam Ruplinger.
“I have a garden at my house that I grow produce for the Steamboat at,” Ruplinger said. “I am currently growing 14 kinds of tomatoes, six kinds of peppers, lemon cucumbers and a variety of herbs for the restaurant.”
Fittingly, one of the guitar-playing Ruplinger’s favorite recording artists is the indie folk group Iron & Wine, in addition to South African singer/guitarist Gregory Alan Isakov.
“I will try to play their songs — and sing — from time to time,” he said. “Depends on what bottle of wine I’m on.”
This latest chapter in our Match Maker series pays tribute to Cary, Yamhill Valley Vineyards and Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards with two bottlings on the Steamboat Inn wine list.
Smith paired one of the most decorated Pinot Noirs of Cary’s career - the 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir - with Olive Oil Cured Pork Tenderloins with Apple Mostarda and Whole Wheat Spaetzle.
Ruplinger appropriately matched up the Reustle Prayer-Rock Vineyards 2017 Estate Selection Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner with Grilled Steelhead with Griddled Butter Poached Fingerlings, Nasturtiums and Verjus Vinaigrette.
“My thoughts on the wine pairing for the steelhead were that the rich nature of the fish would need to go well with a white wine that had some body to it and could stand up to the grilled aspects of the fish,” Ruplinger said. “I also wanted something that had a more floral bouquet to complement the nasturtium and the herbs. The dish itself is a rich dish in its own right with the butter-poached potatoes and the farmed steelhead, so the wine needed to have a nice streak of acidity as well.”
Wine lovers don’t need to be guests at the Steamboat Inn to experience the cuisine. The lodge is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Mother’s Day weekend through Halloween.
Yamhill Valley Vineyards 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, $40
— 1,248 cases, 14.3% alc.
Portland biotech executive Denis Burger saw a classified ad in the newspaper for land near McMinnville. He reached out because he wanted to plant a hobby vineyard he could tend in between trips to the Oregon Coast. By 1983, he had put in some vines.
Yamhill Valley Vineyards now spans two thirds of the Burger family’s 150-acre estate, and its enduring success makes it the second-oldest commercial vineyard in the McMinnville American Viticultural Area.
A recent string of acclaim for the cool-climate wines from Ariel Eberle, longtime vineyard manager Carlos Escobar and the late Stephen Cary prompted Wine Press Northwest to select Yamhill Valley Vineyards as its 2019 Oregon Winery of the Year.
Burger’s general manager, his daughter Jenny, also ranks among the industry leaders in Oregon by offering a tasting room experience in Spanish by appointment. Another feature is meat and cheese boards from local producers, such as Olympia Provisions and Briar Rose Creamery.
Cary, who died last year, saw this Match Maker wine — the 2014 Reserve Pinot Noir — earn a gold medal at the 2017 TEXSOM International Wine Awards, a Dallas-area judging viewed as perhaps the most exacting in the country. Its panel is dominated by Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, winemakers, wine buyers and writers from around the world. It also earned a gold medal at the 2018 Cascadia International Wine Competition.
There’s a lasting fondness for what Eberle can look back upon as “the big and beautiful vintage.” That long, hot growing season of 2014 was tempered a bit by the influence of cooling breezes through the nearby Van Duzer Corridor, which helps explain why the 2014 Reserve remains so balanced. Yields also were handsome.
In 2012, blocks were harvested at 2.3 tons per acre by Oct. 14. In 2014, Cary brought the fruit in from the Hilltop and Morning Light blocks by Oct. 9 and at a more robust 3.11 tons per acre.
All totaled, six blocks factored into the 2014 Reserve. Many of those berries were Pommard clone fruit, which explains the dark and lush nose of dusty black cherry and plum with pencil shavings and enticing Christmas cake spices from spending 16 months in a program of French oak, with 20% of those barrels being new. The drink is long and filled with finesse from flavors of Rainier cherry and more plum, backed by cherry skin tannins and blueberry juice.
This wine and Cary shared the spotlight repeatedly at the Steamboat Inn as part of winemaker dinners. Cary’s suggestions included pairing it with a peppered steak.
Yamhill Valley Vineyards, 16250 SW Oldsville Road, McMinnville, OR 97128, yamhill.com, (503) 843-3100.
Olive Oil Cured Pork Tenderloins with Apple Mostarda and Whole Wheat Spaetzle
Whole wheat buttermilk spaetzle
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup snap peas
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoons of parsley, finely chopped
Combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour and salt together and mix thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, mix eggs and buttermilk and whisk together.
Then combine wet ingredients with dry ingredients, folding together.
Place plastic wrap over the bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.
Fill a pot with 1 gallon of water and bring to a boil after the dough has set for 30 minutes
Push the dough through a spaetzle maker into the boiling water then cook for 2-5 minutes. Remove from boiling water and place onto a baking sheet to chill.
Take a medium-sized sauté pan and place on medium-high heat. Add butter, mushrooms and snap peas, and then sauté until a light caramelization has formed on the vegetables.
Combine with spaetzle, cooking the spaetzle until lightly caramelized and finished with freshly chopped parsley.
1 quart unfiltered natural apple cider
Place cider into a medium sized pot, turn the heat on medium and reduce cider until reduced by 3/4 set aside and let chill.
1 tablespoon whole mustard seed
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 apple, chopped into small pieces
Combine mustard seeds, apple cider vinegar, water, sugar and salt into a small pot.
Place on low heat and cook until mustard seeds have absorbed all of the liquid and are soft.
Combined your pickled mustard seed with chopped apple and cook for five minutes. Remove the mixture from heat and chill.
Olive oil cured pork tenderloin
2 pork tenderloins cut into 2-ounce medallions
2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
6 sprigs of thyme, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 shallots, sliced
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients into a bowl. Mix thoroughly and place into a one gallon
Ziploc bag. Let marinate overnight.
After you are done marinating, remove all herbs, garlic and shallots from the pork and any excess olive oil.
Heat pan to medium-high heat to sear pork medallions until cooked to desired temperature. We like 136 degrees for a nice medium. Let pork medallions rest up to five minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Take quarter cup of cooked spaetzle mix and place in center of plate.
Add four pork medallions to the top of your spaetzle mixture.
On top of each pork medallion, place 1 teaspoon of apple mostarda then drizzle with apple cider reduction.
Reustle Prayer-Rock Vineyards 2017 Estate Selection Hefeabzug Grüner Veltliner, Umpqua Valley, $26
— 619 cases, 12.5% alc.
Oregon's Umpqua Valley wine industry seems to naturally attract pioneers and talented trailblazing historical figures such as Earl Jones, Scott Henry and the late Richard Sommer.
Philadelphia native Stephen Reustle officially joined the list in 2005 when he bottled the nation’s first expression of Grüner Veltliner — Austria's famous reply to Riesling.
Reustle's talents extend well beyond Grüner, evidenced by his 32 career Platinum awards in Wine Press Northwest's annual year-end judging of gold-medal winning wines. That total ranks No. 4 on the all-time list -— tops in Oregon and just behind the likes of Washington giants Chateau Ste. Michelle and Maryhill.
Ten of those Platinums by Reustle are for his ground-breaking work with Grüner. Three of those came in 2016, each a different expression. On the heels of that showing, Wine Press Northwest named Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards as its Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year for 2017.
Farming is something Reustle grew up with, developing a work ethic that led the Rutgers grad to a successful career on the East Coast as a CPA and marketing executive. He and his wife, Gloria, wanted to raise their family on a farm on the West Coast, and they found 200 acres near Henry Estate in 2000. Two years later, they began to establish 40 acres of vines. In 2003, he added Grüner Veltliner, a lasting inspiration after tasting expensive examples during a motorcycle tour through Austria.
It's taken hold at Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyard, and the following he's created for Grüner prompts him to produce five styles - including a sparkling wine. They differ based on harvest dates, sweetness level and the fermentation process.
In the case of this Match Maker wine, he leaves this Grüner Veltliner on the yeast cells — sur lie aging — a bit longer to extract more flavor.
“Hefeabzug is the Austrian word for sur lie," Reustle said. "I began putting it on the label of our Grüner Veltliner Estate to give a little more information about our winemaking process. It makes for a great conversation starter!"
Austrian producers trademarked Smaragd, a reference to the green lizards in Austria's famed Wachau Valley, so Reustle no longer uses that term on that tier.
"Hefeabzug is positioned in the lineup to offer a little more acidity and less mid-palate fullness than the Green Lizard," Reustle notes. "The nose is complex and changing as you spend a bit of time with it."
The 2017 vintage saw a record-setting month of heat during August. As a result, Reustle began harvesting his Grüner Veltliner in early September. He ages the Hefeabzug in stainless steel on the lees for six months with occasional stirring. It is bottle-aged one year prior to release. International critics marvel at the Southern Oregon producer's ability to present classic Grüner Veltliner qualities.
"Of course, a hint of white pepper, green and chamomile tea are ever-present, but there is also some apple and a floral note and an ever-so-faint hint petrol, a harbinger of things to come,” Reustle points out. "Lime, citrus and minerality round out the experience."
The brilliance of its structure strikes a balance with low alcohol and brightness. Gloria, a talented chef, showcases the versatility of their Hefeabzug Grüner by pairing it with anything from vegetable dishes to seafood to chicken, pork and beef. It already has earned its way in the 2019 Platinum with gold medals at three West Coast wine competitions.
"And this wine is very age-worthy," Stephen says. "I look to an easy 20-year life. Recently, we opened a bottle of our ’06. It is still a baby at 13 years of age!"
Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards, 960 Cal Henry Road, Roseburg, OR 97471, www.reustlevineyards.com, (541) 459-6060.
Grilled Steelhead with Griddled Butter Poached Fingerlings, Nasturtiums and Verjus Vinaigrette
4 each 6-ounce steelhead portions
Oil for brushing before grilling. We use avocado or olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat grill for direct/indirect grilling.
Season the fish with salt and pepper and brush with oil before grilling.
On the direct side of the grill, sear on the flesh side for 2 minutes and turn 45 degrees for another 2 minutes.
Flip and transfer to the indirect side and close grill.
Cook until desired temperature. We like steelhead cooked to 120-125, or medium rare. For a firmer texture, cook to 145. Anything over 145 will dry out the fish.
Butter Poached Fingerling Potatoes
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1 1/4 pounds unsalted butter
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 peel of lemon
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
In a medium saucepot, melt butter. When butter is melted, add all other ingredients.
Bring to a simmer and cover for 30-40 minutes or until fork tender.
Strain potatoes and let cool to room temperature. Preheat a griddle pan on the stove or on the indirect side of your grill.
Take the potatoes and press them on a cutting board with your palm until the potato is half the thickness; essentially, you are smashing them.
Take about 1/4 cup of poaching butter and put it on the griddle pan. Place the potatoes in the butter and sear until crispy on both sides.
Season with pepper and check to see if salt is to your liking.
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup verjus (We use Montinore Estate or Abacela verjus)
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
2/3 cup vegetable oil
10 nasturtium flowers
In a blender, combine vinegar, honey, verjus, salt, nasturtium flowers and lemon juice. Blend until smooth.
Slowly drizzle in the blend oil. Finish with lemon zest and minced shallots. Any unused vinaigrette will keep in the fridge for a week or more.
Nasturtium leaves and fresh herbs. basil/pineapple sage/lemon thyme/tarragon
Place a layer of Butter Poached Fingerlings on the base of the plate.
Place Grilled Steelhead on top of potatoes.
Scatter Nasturtium Leaves and the other herbs around the plate and on the fish and spoon the Vinaigrette over the fish and herbs.